From #instafame to insta-money:The business of blogging

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By Pola Esguerra del Monte

A PICTURE is worth a thousand words — and a thousand pesos, if the caption indicates that it was taken using #TheLatestPhoneInTown, and the makeup is courtesy of #ThisMakeupBrand and #ThatMakeupBrand and #ThatOtherMakeupBrand, and the ensemble is a combination of clothes from #ThisBoutique, jewelry from #ThatBoutique, and shoes from #ThisShoeStore. #Blogger #Instagrammers #Instafamous #Asia #Manila #Philippines #photooftheday

The blog — this generation’s form of the diary since the new millennium went full swing — has turned into a legitimate source of income. In fact, this doesn’t just come down to a forgettable amount of cash. Up to six digits can be earned from a single article on a blog, which has even gained more value as a forum, now that social media increases the leverage of bloggers.

“Blog” is a truncation of the words “web” and “log,” and is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a web site on which someone writes about personal opinions, activities and experiences.” Blogs have since evolved as well into a sphere of commerce, wherein bloggers are the new breed of entrepreneurs.

Martha Sta. Barbara, who is known on the blogosphere as The Beauty Junkee ( — she also has similar handles on various social media sites — says the term “blogger” now means more than someone who chronicles his or her life and interests online, because “blogging [has] evolved into a business platform.”

Martha Sta. Barbara is behind The Beauty Junkee (
Martha Sta. Barbara is known in the blogosphere as The Beauty Junkee (

She started her blog when she was still an undergraduate student of theater, writing reviews of makeup products she would sometimes borrow from her mother. Today, she continues to post about makeup — name it, she knows it — and her following (now in the thousands) continues to grow. Her blog is visited up to 7,000 times a day.

A blog begins monetizing, she said, when a blogger already has a good online standing. This is indicated by the blogger’s following — by the number of blog subscribers and social media followers. The quality of the blogs can show if the bloggers “are experienced.”

These details are important to their potential clients. Today, companies approach bloggers for events, letting them join the throng of lifestyle journalists on coverage; send them bags and bags of freebies with the hope of a kind review or even just a mention; or, for those companies that can set aside a more considerable budget, they directly avail themselves of a blogger’s “professional services.”

For an “advertorial,” the rate can go up to Php100,000 per article. To compute that price, Ms. Sta. Barbara said, bloggers go by the Php50 or Php75/1000 impressions rate.

The blogger’s “main product” is their writing, but Ms. Sta. Barbara doesn’t put bloggers on the same group as journalists (because, she explained, of the “lack of grounding in journalism” among bloggers’ posts). Instead she refers to bloggers as “internet marketers,” whose products, aside from their posts, include the following services:

Some companies approach bloggers to become their brand ambassadors, and Ms. Sta Barbara shared that the running rate in the industry begins at Php10,000 a month. The rate is entirely dependent on project terms, scope of work, and length of project.

Social media promotions, like posts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, are priced as high as Php30,000 per post. The rate depends on the blogger’s following.

Ads rates for a blog begins at Php3,000 to Php100,000 a month.

Gaining a following has also allowed some bloggers to step into other realms — such as public relations. Ms. Sta Barbara, who now has her own digital marketing and PR agency, Digify Corp., said that some bloggers take on PR consultancy as a “day job” or another income source. After all, their facility with the digital landscape and in gathering followers is something that companies would like to soak up. PR consultants who are also bloggers typically help link SMEs (mostly in the food, fashion, and beauty industries) to digital media. They write press releases, conceptualize PR campaigns, and organize events. Bloggers, after all, are in the circle and can link the company to more bloggers.

According to Ms. Sta Barbara, the process begins with the client approaching a blogger for a partnership. A common exchange: “How much for one blog post, two Instagram posts, three tweets, and one event attendance?” When an agreement is reached with X bloggers — literally with a memorandum of agreement or contract (sometimes with non-disclosure agreements), the companies get their TIN numbers, request a billing statement, and lodge the expense as payment for “supplier.”

“I prefer cash payments for my projects,” Ms. Sta Barbara said, but added she is also amenable to ex-deals with a 70% cash and 30% product split. Press junkets are also welcome.

“Running a blog is not easy and it entails a lot of cost, from purchasing your domain [to] attending events and producing daily content, not to mention labor,” Ms. Sta Barbara said. “For seasoned bloggers like me, as much as possible, I want to get paid for projects because they’re technically work and there’s no such thing as work without pay. Besides, I’ve been around for a long time, doing pro-bono work, and I think it’s time for me to charge.”

“I also know my worth,” she added, “how I work, the quality of work I produce, my authority in the blogosphere — and my clientele include some of the best brands in the world so I can justify what I’m charging and my cost.” Yet, she has a soft heart for start-ups, having once been a newbie blogger herself, “but again, this depends on the brand.” It still has to be something that is part of her interest, she said.

Ms. Sta Barbara gives us the specific numbers. She has 260,000 monthly views on her site, along with 6,132 Facebook followers, 6,944 Instagram followers, 4,310 Twitter followers, and 534 subscribers. That means her clients can expose their brands to that many people online.

But she makes the following clear in her media kit: “The Beauty Junkee is committed to honesty and integrity, therefore all sponsored works, whether in cash or kind, shall be determined by the writer for greater transparency.”

“One of the reasons why blogging became big is because bloggers are very transparent with their reviews and features,” she explained when asked about that clarification. She only endorses products she believes in and discloses to her readers if a certain post is paid, she said. “It’s good that most brands are okay with this,” she also pointed out. “The PR (public relations) landscape is evolving.”

Martine de Luna, the blogger behind, gives workshops to budding bloggers to help them launch their own blogs and grow their own brands, some of which have turned into actual thriving businesses. At Thomson Reuters and Enderun Colleges, she has been given opportunities to teach “the art of blogging,” which she defines as “putting professional, artistic effort to building the blog. This means carefully choosing the topics and themes one blogs about, paying attention to one’s brand identity from writing style to photography and visual content, and finding a blog process that fits in with the bloggers’ lifestyle.”

Martine de Luna is behind
Martine de Luna is behind

For Ms. de Luna, blogs used for businesses can fall into two categories: influencers and authorities. An influencer, she said, is a blogger with a significant amount of visitor traffic who leverages these page views towards advertising, brand ambassadors and endorsements. “These are your typical lifestyle, fashion, and travel bloggers who have successfully carved a niche,” Ms. de Luna said. (In that regard, Ms. Sta. Barbara qualifies as a beauty blogger, which is under the lifestyle category.)

Authority blogs, on the other hand, are those that blog for lead generation so they can market their products and services to a ready market. These blogs monetize through product sales, usually of digital products, courses, webinars, making them different from the lifestyle niche.

Ms. de Luna finds that, in the age of new media, bloggers that are self-hosted are much like the opinion columns of the traditional broadsheets. “Consumers, will, these days, look to bloggers when determining a purchase, as opposed to celebrity endorsers,” she said. Social media, she added, has played a huge part in amplifying the reach and influence of bloggers. “I think blogging is a valid benchmark simply because you can gauge how many different conversations are ongoing at any one point in time, based on the number of blogs you can pull up during a web search.”

Traffic, she said, is largely hinged on, one, those who have been blogging for a long time and already have a following; two, celebrities who leverage their fame towards blogging; and three, newcomers who bring something fresh to the scene.

“There is an oversupply of lifestyle blogs,” she admitted, and bloggers have to work at diversifying their offerings. “How can a lifestyle blogger stand out? Instead of being a simple lifestyle blogger, one can explore a niche — say, a blog on traveling and working, with kids. In blogging, you have to find those lesser-tapped angles and create a new conversation.”

Indeed, a fresh approach is a key factor to being a successful blogger — in terms of the influence the blogger can extend to readers, so that from being a niche, the readership can grow. “I believe blogging can work for people who want to bring their message to the world, so that they can build a meaningful community,” she said.

For e-commerce advocate Janette Toral, who belongs to the category of “authorities” (being the woman behind blogs work because they can reach and connect to an audience on a personal level, “capitalizing on the blogger’s freedom to share [a company’s] developments and insights in a first person’s voice.”

e-Commerce advocate Janette Toral (
e-Commerce advocate Janette Toral (

In the process, companies discover that they, too, can ride on the digital wave, talk about what they do in a more intimate language, as opposed to the traditional press release.

The effectivity of such a language, in the first-person voice, makes readers feel that the writer is more sincere in telling a product’s story. “The PR kind,” she said, is easily figured out by readers.

Through their rather simpler, less-journalistic (as some might see it) language, bloggers assert their own influence: “They are seen as effective channels to spread the word about various products…[and] they can also use their voice and weigh in on issues from elections, proposed laws, mining, government deals, transportation issues, Internet, and e-commerce related concerns. Those who know their place and are able to put their inputs, opinions, contributions responsibly will be valued as a stakeholder.”

However, the growing popularity of bloggers bothers lifestyle journalists, who maintain that the journalistic kind of writing must always be anchored on the traditional practices of reporting. An editor who has, for years, covered events for a national broadsheet, and thus has observed the surge of bloggers during press events, said, “The quality of most bloggers’ writing is substandard.”

While she acknowledges that there are trained writers in the blogosphere, many, especially those who are only starting to gain followers, “just attend events, copy-paste the press release, then call it journalism,” she said. “The press release is only a guide. You write about your experience, your take about the topic, and your impressions about the information given by your interview. Oh yes, must interview! The interview is vital because it reveals the thoughts and ideas of the subject that are not necessarily in the press release.”

With the prevalence of many bloggers’ complacency in producing “substandard writing,” as long as their following grows, comes the following cost: “Well, if I may speak the language: pabebe pa more. Dumb and dumber,” this editor said. “I suppose water seeks its own level.”

For Ms. Sta. Barbara, Ms. de Luna, and Ms. Toral, while it is the influence that keeps them on the radar, the bottom of it all is not merely the desire for “insta-fame.”

“I like telling stories and blogging allows me to do that,” Ms. Sta Barbara said. Her fulfillment, she added, is doubled when she receives e-mail from readers, who thank her for changing their perception about beauty, especially when it comes to the morena beauty, or on something as simple as finally figuring out the exact shade of red lipstick for their skin tone. “These are the non-monetary payments I get every day,” she said. “And they make me feel just as good as being paid monetarily for doing what I love.”